Saturday, September 5, 2009


Baz Luhrmann, 2008 (7.8*)
This epic adventure, romantic western war film is actually an enjoyable piece of fluff, in spite of the mixed reviews (Roger Ebert gave it 4/5*, and it's got a 3.6/5 at netflix, I'm right between). The story takes place in the northern territory of Australia, around the coastal port of Darwin; beyond that is just desert, canyons, and huge cattle ranches. The first half of this 2.5 hr epic is a western, featuring an incredible cattle drive - you'll feel like you're in a John Ford film. The second half becomes a war film, as it's 1940 and the Japanese are advancing toward Australia.

Throughout each half, it's is also a romance, between a ranch heiress from England played by Nicole Kidman, who arrives to sell the property, and a contract drover, who gets cattle to market then moves on, played by buffed-up Hugh Jackman, who really should've been less Conan and more Indy Jones. Nice to see Aussie vets with meaty character parts here: Bryan Brown, as a competing cattle baron; Jack Thompson (Breaker Morant) as her boozing accountant; Road Warrior fans will also recognize gyro captain Bruce Spence. Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil from Walkabout plays a wise old shaman in the wild, named King George, who "has the magic".

A sidebar to the main plot involves the plight of mixed-race children (called "creamies" by the white racists), those with one white and one aborigine parent, who were taken away by officials and placed in their own type of orphanages, called "locky-locks" by the kids. One such child on Lady Ashley's ranch wants to hear a story one night, and Kidman, having just seen the film, recounts the Wizard of Oz to the child, teaching him Over the Rainbow, which becomes their special song. Now the story uses Oz as inspiration, and could even have been called "Ozstralia". This also "self places" the film in that historic era of film classics, whose look it emulates pretty well, thanks to modern special effects.

There's a lot of both cinematic and aboriginal magic here, with an almost painterly look at times, and it has the grand adventure epic feel. It's perhaps not as gripping or original as modern critics expected, and the war half seems in intrusion into a nice Aussie western, but it does have the old Hollywood formula and atmosphere - we even see big maps of Australia, like those in Casablanca and Indy Jones. Seen in that perspective, it's another grand entertainment in the over-the-top style of Cecil DeMille. Australia deserves their own grand national epic, for now, this is it.

Note: fans of this should enjoy see the four-hour miniseries "A Town Like Alice", based on Nevil Shute's romance novel of WW2 and Alice Springs, Australia.

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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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